CHARLESTON — After years of controversy over ordination of gays and other issues, the conservative Diocese of South Carolina has finally split from the national Episcopal Church.
The split with one of the oldest dioceses in the nation came this week after the conservative leader of the diocese, Bishop Mark Lawrence, was notified by the national church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops that he is considered to have abandoned the national church. A board considered similar issues a year ago and concluded he had not.
But in an Oct. 15 letter from Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the national church, Lawrence was informed that he is considered to have abandoned the church and is barred from performing any “Episcopal, ministerial or canonical arts” while the full House of Bishops investigates.
The standing committee that governs the local diocese passed a resolution earlier this month saying it would disaffiliate with the national church if the church took action “asserting or claiming any supervisory, disciplinary, or other alleged hierarchical authority over this diocese, its leaders or its members.”
It’s not clear how the diocese, with roots stretching to before the American Revolution, will proceed.
The Associated Press left a message for Lawrence on Thursday. He is scheduled to meet with the clergy today, with a diocesan convention set for next month.
The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003, upsetting conservative Episcopalians. In 2006, the Diocese of South Carolina voted to reject the authority of the national church’s presiding bishop, but stopped short of a full break with the church.
While some conservative congregations left the national church to join a new Anglican denomination over the issue, the South Carolina diocese had stayed in but still pushed back on theological differences and what it called the increasing centralization of the church.
The diocese in eastern South Carolina has 70 congregations with about 29,000 parishioners. Dating from the 1700s, it was one of the original dioceses that joined together to form the Episcopal Church. The 2 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide.